Glenn Swanson: Some lessons and questions about presidential legacy

Thursday, August 07, 2014
To the editor:

In response to Jay Fleitman’s column about Obama’s shortcomings in comparison to President Harry Truman’s, I would offer a couple of observations.

My recollection is that 60 years ago, shortly after Truman had left the Oval Office, his stature as a president was pretty low; now it’s generally considered in the top ten. My intuition is that history will re-evaluate Mr. Obama. He could come out lower than Buchanan or Harding, but I would be willing to risk a nickel that he won’t.

While few would argue about the success of the Marshall Plan — more might argue about the Truman Doctrine.

Should we ignore the debate famously titled “Who Lost China?” I suppose FDR could be blamed for the Soviet Union controlling eastern Europe, gaining the atomic bomb secrets, and starting and maintaining the gulag, but the Rosenbergs were executed shortly after Truman left office in 1953, and Joe McCarthy’s rise to prominence should not be on Truman’s shoulders, unless we want to blame lack of effective leadership to prevent those achievements.

“Barack Obama came to office in economic turmoil but at the end of a successful war in Iraq.” I assume he means that if the United States had only stayed in Iraq like we did in Germany and Japan after WWII Iraq would be a functioning country — democratic, capitalistic and not consumed by religious division.

Differences matter. Other than a successful invasion of Grenada in 1983, people have argued that the United States has not won a war since WW II, which is technically correct on at least the count that war is declared by Congress, and Dec. 12, 1941 was the last time that happened.

We all would be better citizens if we read more good history; David McCullough is indeed a writer of good history.

Glenn Swanson